WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University’s defense of its Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament title began with a two-game sweep of Hampden-Sydney last weekend and continues with the second round this week. Mother Nature has thrown the Hornets a curveball along the way.
Rain first forced Shenandoah to extend its best-of-three series against H-SC an extra day into Monday, at least one day later than the other three teams left standing completed their first-round series.
The threat of more rain later this week prompted even more changes, as it was announced on Wednesday that the start of the second round of the ODAC tournament was bumped up from Friday to Thursday. The result for third-seeded Shenandoah is a road game at No. 2 Roanoke at 8 p.m. Thursday, which will take place at Kiwanis Field in Salem.
No. 1 Randolph-Macon hosts No. 4 Virginia Wesleyan in Ashland at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the other game, marking the official start of the four-team, double-elimination round that will crown the ODAC champion on Saturday. The rest of the games on Friday and Saturday will be played in Salem, though they’ll be split between Kiwanis Field and Salem Memorial Ballpark, the original site of the tournament’s second round.
“Can’t say enough great things about the way our players are competing, the way the team is coming together,” Hornets head coach Kevin Anderson, whose team is playing for a bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs, said on Wednesday. “We’ll need to be at our best to compete down in Salem. We’re playing on Roanoke’s home field. Everybody else has their pitching lined up. We played Saturday and Monday. … But you’re in a tournament. You’re playing for an automatic bid to the NCAA regional, so one of four teams that are going to Salem is going to advance, and the team that plays the best will move on. We hope that’s us.”
Shenandoah brings momentum into Thursday’s meeting with Roanoke, as the Hornets have won a season-high nine straight games, including 5-0 and 7-6 wins over Hampden-Sydney to start the conference tournament.
The weather, however, has created some uncertainty within SU’s pitching plans.
Senior left-hander Robert Klinchock said Wednesday he’ll start against Roanoke, though Anderson said he won’t bring back No. 2 starter Reeves Lowry, who started Monday’s game, on three days’ rest for Friday’s game.
Klinchock and Lowry have combined to make 21 starts for the Hornets this spring, while four freshmen — Carson Kulina (5-0, 3.79 ERA), Calvin Pastel (1-0, 7.01 ERA), Matt Barnes (3-1, 4.00 ERA) and Mike Verzaleno (1-0, 6.38 ERA) — have combined for 16 starts.
Roanoke wrapped up its first-round sweep of Lynchburg on Sunday, while Virginia Wesleyan completed its sweep of Ferrum on Saturday and Randolph-Macon finished off Eastern Mennonite in a doubleheader on Friday.
“It puts us at a competitive disadvantage, but that’s OK,” Anderson said of the short turnaround. “We’re one of four teams there, and I would rather play the game than just award it to the highest seed. So we’ll figure it out. We feel we’re very deep on the mound and you can see that by how we’ve divided up the innings. You can see how many guys have wins. We have a lot of confidence in our pitchers.”
Klinchock (6-4, 4.43 ERA this season) is coming off a complete-game, 113-pitch shutout against Hampden-Sydney on Saturday, his second nine-inning effort in as many starts. Klinchock, who will be making the start on four days’ rest, has not gone fewer than five days between appearances this season.
Klinchock said on Wednesday his arm felt “great” and expected no issues on Thursday. He picked up a win against Roanoke during the regular season, allowing two earned runs in 7⅓ innings in the second game of a doubleheader on March 23, a 3-2 Hornets win. The Maroons (21-16) beat Shenandoah (28-11) in the first game of that matchup, 2-1.
Roanoke, which finished a half-game behind top-seeded Randolph-Macon in the conference standings, is batting .270 as a team, a mark that ranks 10th in the ODAC. The Maroons also rank in the bottom third of the conference in runs per game (5.6, 10th) and slugging percentage (.377, ninth).
Sophomore catcher Gavin Kandrick, a Skyline High School grad, leads Roanoke with a .325 average, and junior Jack Howard has a team-high 25 RBIs.
“It’s really intense whenever we play them,” said Hornets closer Gerard DePhillips, who earned a save against the Maroons in March. “... I love facing them. They’re a good team. I think they’re a little bit like us, so it’s definitely fun competing out there with them because they have guys that can hurt us in their lineup.”
Anderson said the Maroons’ strength lies in their pitching and defense. Right-handers Kenny Mackovic (3-1, 2.93 ERA) and Connor Chiulli (4-0, 3.38 ERA) have each made 10 starts for Roanoke, and closer Kevin Ledford (1.40 ERA) has five saves and is averaging 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
Nine Roanoke pitchers have thrown at least 19 innings this season, and Mackovic leads the way with 46⅓ innings pitched. The Maroons’ 3.82 team ERA is second in the conference.
“They try to get it to Ledford with the lead and they’ve had success doing that,” Anderson said. “They’ll give you a lot of different looks. Normally each time through the order you’re gonna see somebody different.”
Shenandoah is batting .310 as a team since April, and five Hornets — Frankie Ritter (.373), Matt Moon (.371), Tristan Baker (.364), Robbie Marcelle (.348) and Keegan Woolford (.333, 11 home runs, 47 RBIs) — are hitting at least .333.
“We’re riding a nine-game win streak right now, so we’re feeling pretty hot,” Baker said. “It’s a good time to get hot. The pitching has looked as good as it has all year. The bats are starting to come around again, too. And on Saturday the gloves basically won us the game. ... We’re gelling right now.”
Regardless of Thursday’s outcome, Shenandoah is guaranteed another game at 11:30 a.m. Friday. The winners of Thursday’s games meet on Friday morning at Salem Memorial Ballpark, while the losers meet in an elimination game at Kiwanis Field. A second elimination game will take place at 3:30 p.m. Friday at Salem Memorial Ballpark.
The tournament concludes Saturday with an 11 a.m. game and an if-necessary Game 7 at 3 p.m. at Salem Memorial Ballpark. The ODAC tournament champion earns an automatic bid to the NCAA regional playoffs.
Shenandoah was swept by Randolph-Macon by scores of 8-3 and 13-4 in two regular-season games on March 30. The Hornets split with Virginia Wesleyan on March 16.